Guide to Your New Guitar
Congrats on purchasing your first guitar! At Elite Music Academy, we take pride in the instruments we sell. Here’s some important information you’ll need to know in order to keep your instrument playing and sounding great.
Aside from smashing your guitar on stage at the end of a performance, lack of humidity is the number one killer of acoustic guitars. If a guitar is not kept properly humidified for an extended period of time, the wood starts to shrink which can eventually result in irreparable damage to your instrument. You can experience a loss of tone, a warp in the neck or body, and even cracks in the wood. All of these will obviously hurt the sound and playability of your instrument. You don’t need to worry about this in the summertime when the air is plenty humid (in fact during a Toronto summer there is often 80-90 percent humidity, far above the ideal 40-50 percent for a guitar. But don’t fear, too much humidity is far less dangerous than not enough. Just don’t leave your guitar in the trunk of your car on a hot summer day!).
It is during the winter when dryness will rear its ugly head. Fortunately, this problem can be easily averted. The best option is to keep your guitar in a room with controlled humidity (as mentioned above, the ideal is about 40-50% humidity). You can purchase a small room humidifier from most hardware stores; they do a great job. However, if you don’t feel like spending this kind of money, you can also purchase a guitar humidifier from any guitar shop.
Guitar humidifiers are basically a sponge in some sort of casing, usually a rubber tube or a plastic shell. Simply dampen the sponge; you don’t want it to actually be dripping. Return it to its casing and put in the sound hole of your guitar. You’ll know it’s time to put more water in when the sponge is dry; usually every one or two days. Remember these humidifiers are only effective if the guitar is in a tightly shut case!
THE NECK ANDTRUSS ROD
The neck on your new guitar is not as simple as it appears to be. Nearly every guitar neck these days has a metal rod down the middle whose purpose is to counter the high level of tension exerted by the strings. This metal rod is called a truss rod. Although the neck appears to be straight, it rarely is! Every neck needs to be bowed a little bit so that it has some relief. Without any relief, you would experience buzzing on notes that you fret (especially the first few frets) caused by the strings touching the frets where they shouldn’t. (Pretty much every acoustic guitar has some fret buzz, but there is a big difference between light buzz and the buzz caused by a back-bowed neck). Different types of players like different amounts of relief. A jazz player with a light touch would require less relief than a blues player who hits the strings harder and likes to use lots of bends. In the end, however, it’s really a matter of preference. You can adjust the amount of relief on your neck by tightening or loosening the truss rod. The tighter it is, the less relief there will be. We highly recommend that for neck adjustments you bring your guitar to a certified technician as improper adjustments can cause your guitar neck to break!
There will be times when your truss rod needs to be adjusted. If you put on a heavier or lighter gauge of string, the tension on the neck will change and the truss rod will need to be adjusted accordingly.
Simply put, the action is the distance between the strings and the frets. Some players prefer lower action, some prefer higher. Action can be adjusted in a couple of ways. Loosening the truss rod reduces the bow of the neck and therefore also the action. Another way to adjust it is by filing down the nut or the saddle to lower the strings. Again, action is a matter of personal preference, depending on the player and their style.
Choosing strings can sometimes be intimidating; especially when confronted by the massive wall of strings at Elite Music! But have no fear, there is no such thing as choosing the wrong string. As with most things guitar related, it’s all a matter of personal preference. That being said, here are a few things you might want to consider when making your choice.
The standard string gauge on most acoustic guitars is .12-.54. This is usually called a light gauge. Some players prefer something even lighter, and some prefer a heavier gauge. Lighter strings are a little easier to fret and to bend but generally sound a little thinner. A heavier string gauge is a little harder to fret and to bend but will provide a fuller sound. Experiment with different gauges and figure out which is the best for you!
Another factor to take into account is what the string is made of. The unwound (usually the high e, and b strings) strings are generally all made of plain steel. The wound strings have a plain steel core but are wound with an alloy usually consisting of phosphor and bronze. Most guitars come with strings called “phosphor bronze” which has a ratio of 92 phosphors to 8 bronze. These provide a nice mix of warmth and brightness. However, for a brighter sound, some players prefer “80/20 bronze” which, as you might of guessed, has a ratio of 80 phosphors to 20 bronze. There are a few different combinations out there.
There is no sure fire answer for when you need to put new strings on your guitar, it depends on how picky you are about your sound. Don’t forget, as your strings get older, they start losing their ability to hold their tune, and they lose their intonation as well. You’ll know it’s probably time to change them when the unwound strings start turning black and losing their elasticity.
Proper intonation on a guitar is very important. If a guitar has proper intonation, it means each strings is in tune all the way up the neck. It is very simple to test if your guitar has proper intonation. Tune your guitar as you normally would. Then play each string at the octave (the 12th fret). If it is a little flat or a little sharp then the intonation for that string is off.
There are a few things that could cause this. When strings become old and worn, they lose their ability to stay in tune, and their intonation. If you find your guitar’s intonation is off, and you haven’t changed your strings in 6 months, chances are that a new set of strings will fix the problem. If this doesn’t do the trick then the scale length (the distance between the saddle and the nut) probably needs to be adjusted. Bring your guitar to a qualified technician and they will make the necessary changes to the bridge. The last possibility your neck could be warped (remember, to avoid this keep your guitar properly humidified and don’t expose it to extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, there is usually nothing that can be done about this.
THE SHORTLIST OF ACOUSTIC GUITAR CARE
1. Don’t expose your guitar to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time.
2. During the winter, make sure your guitar is in its case when transporting it outdoors.
3. Never leave your guitar in a car for an extended period of time, especially when it’s hot outside. It only takes a few minutes for glue to melt and wood to swell.
4. Keep your guitar properly humidified during the winter months.
5. If you want your strings to last longer, wipe them down when you finish playing.
6. Don’t smash your guitar when you finish a performance…unless you really want to.
Taking care of your instrument is a fundamental skill that is also taught in part with Elite Music Academy’s guitar lessons, as our teachers take great pride in their instruments as well.
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